Overcharged in Vietnam: tips to avoid paying too much

By Kim Thuy   March 16, 2016 | 07:52 pm PT
From street vendors to souvenir stores and restaurants, stories abound of tourists been charged far more than they should have been.

Traveling in Vietnam, it sometimes feels like taking part in a constant battle where you need to know how to protect yourself from being overcharged by street vendors, restaurants, taxi drivers, hotel and stores. This is particularly true in areas that are commonly frequented by tourists.

However, overcharging is not something that happens exclusively to tourists, as many locals will tell you this happens to both foreigners and Vietnamese alike. 

In a scene that occurs every day in Vietnam, a women selling fruit approached a tourist in Hanoi's Old Quarter, asking if he would like to buy some bananas. She offered him three bananas with a price of VND30,000 (US$1.30)

The man, from Spain, did not say anything and was about to leave when the woman lowered her price toVND20,000. He eventually said he would only pay VND15,000.

This time it was the woman who left, complaining that the foreign tourist was stingy, saying she would never sell her fruit at such a low price.

"My fruit has been selling really slowly these days," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "Why did that man offered me such cheap price? What kind of foreigner is he?"

This episode is illustrative of a common problem. Like many street vendors and other merchants, the woman believed that foreign tourists are usually rich and have an endless supply of money to spend.

“Sometimes, I invite foreigners to take a photograph with my fruit baskets. I do not ask them for a tip, I just hope they will buy some fruit. Many street vendors follow tourists and insist they buy things, but I don’t want to do that," she said.

Photo: VnExpress/Thuy Bui

It is a persistent complaint of visitors to Vietnam that they are often hassled and overcharged by street vendors. 


 Pau (right) and his wife

Tips to avoid being overcharged in Vietnam

1.     Buy things at supermarkets where the prices are fixed.

2.     Do not hesitate to  bargain. You should offer half or two-thirds of the price the sellers quote you. If they do not agree and you still want the items, you should increase your offer little by little.

3.     At restaurants, ask the prices before ordering. Be careful when restaurants or hotels provide more items than you ordered, as they might cost an exorbitant amount. Always check the bill to see if what you were charged is the same price quoted on the menu.

4. When booking a hotel, always prebook a room by phone or email and ask for details on all fees and charges. This also helps to avoid copycat hotels.

5. Take taxis from trustworthy operators, and check the distance and the prices charged so you can estimate the cost. Always make sure the meter is turned on when you start your journey. If you are overcharged, note the number of the cab and report it to the taxi company. Or better yet, ask a receptionist at your hotel for help.

6. Street vendors might offer you the chance to take a photo, but they may insist you buy something from them afterwards. Be firm and polite or just walk away if you don’t want to buy anything. If you do, always remember to bargain. 

7. Bring essential items you need for your travels, such as water. Goods sold at tourist locations are usually much more expensive than normal.

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